A Reflection by a Chaplain

Symeon Randall-Yee, Chaplain

Recently at Norris Medical Center, I was paged to be with the family of a Buddhist patient who was dying. I help the family to locate support from their local Buddhist community and the family requested that upon death, the body could remain unmoved for eight hours.  I consult with other hospital disciplines and have conversations as to whether this will be permitted to take place.  Eventually a Buddhist nun arrives and the chants for the patient begin and continue throughout the day.

Meanwhile, I am also accompanying a family in the next ICU room. In the last year the patient had been admitted to Keck and Norris a number of times. Recently, the patient began to deteriorate as the cancer advanced. The patient’s mother was constantly at the patient’s bedside. On this day, everyone is present including the patient’s very distraught and emotionally fragile husband. Because of my relationship with the family the medical team brings decisions of care to my attention and at one point there are four family meetings held within a period of an hour and a half. In this environment of intense grief, I try to be present to and provide support to the patient’s mother and the patient’s husband.

Apart from the grief, some family conflict emerged that leads to the Sherriff’s office being called in. The husband had decided not to allow some family members to come in. I participate in this conflict as a mediator with hospital security and the family ensuring that all, including staff, are not affected by the family conflict. Things calm down with the family and the patient’s husband is alone with his wife as she takes her last breath. I walk into the room and their favorite wedding song is playing; the husband at his wife’s bedside is experiencing intense grief. I stay for a while and then I leave their sacred space. The patient passes quietly. In the next room, the Buddhist monks are chanting. I notice the nursing staff is winding down from a full and intense morning and afternoon. My time is done. I leave Norris for the day…my shift is over.